It’s not hard to imagine the meeting of two robots on a beach at Lake Tahoe.
One, a rugged first-responder and veteran of several bomb calls, and the other a svelte environmentalist, sifting trash out of Tahoe’s beaches.
Half of the potential digital duo made its debut at Lake Tahoe last week.
Beach-cleaning robot BEBOT’s goal is to make sure trash and debris doesn’t make it into the Lake.
Former Genoa Town Manager JT Chevallier, who is chief strategy officer for robot creator ECO-CLEAN Solutions, attended the robot’s coming out party.
“This shoreline is the last stand before trash and debris make it into the lake and as trash becomes more ingrained into the sand, it breaks down and it becomes harder to pick up,” Chevallier said. “When we’re out on the beach operating this machine, it creates a sense of attention and that creates a sense of stewardship.”
And hopefully, a desire for beachgoers to clean up after themselves.
“What we want people to know is that though [the shoreline] might be the last stand, the first stand is the users at the beach being responsible with their trash pickup,” Chevallier said.
The goal is to have the robot present at beaches on busy days occasionally to raise awareness and to mostly operate it during the week for clean-ups.
The beach-cleaner is an all electric, solar and battery powered beach sifting robot. It is manufactured by The Searial Cleaners and Poralu Marine and was brought to Lake Tahoe by ECO-CLEAN Solutions, a nonprofit formed in 2020.
Like the Tahoe-Douglas Bomb Squad robot, it’s manually operated and runs on two tracks so there is limited sand compaction. It sifts through about 1-4 inches of sand, picking up items down to the size of 5 millimeters and collects in a container on the back. Operators will sort through the stuff collected, throwing back natural debris and keeping trash and plastic.
“The goal is capture things before they have the opportunity to degrade or make it into the lake,” said nonprofit founder JB Harris.
After being tested on two private beaches in Lake Tahoe, the robot made its public debut at the annual clean-up day at Tallac Historic Site on June 15.
Harris said he started ECO-CLEAN Solutions after he got sick of cleaning up after people during the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’d take my son to the beach, and I’d spend more time cleaning up than enjoying the beach for what it is,” Harris said. “It made me stop wanting to come and I knew there had to be a better way.”
After looking at many different solutions, Harris found a robot with no emissions and minimal impact to the beach. It’s been tested on Florida beaches that are home to turtle nests and no damage has been done to the nests.
The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit agreed to allow access for the robot to Forest Service beaches after seeing data and demonstrations.
“I’m excited to see creative thinking and innovation,” said Public Service Staff Officer Daniel Cressy. “I’m definitely a believer that one thing isn’t the answer, so this might not be the answer but it’s a step towards problem solving. I want to encourage us to try things out, keep learning from things, and not be afraid to do things differently than we’ve done in the past.”
One of the benefits of the robot is that it can pick up smaller items that are harder for volunteers to remove by hand. These smaller items break down into microplastics, which were found in Lake Tahoe in 2019 through efforts of The League, the Desert Research Institute and U.D. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.
“Once those things are in the water, its really difficult to pull them out. We just had an unprecedented effort with Clean Up the Lake removing debris from around the lake, they aren’t removing microplastics, they’re removing big things,” said Chief Strategy Officer for The League to Save Lake Tahoe Jesse Patterson.
Prior to coming to Tallac, the robot did test runs at Glenbrook and Incline beaches, two beaches that are privately-owned and meticulously cleaned by groundskeepers. Even though the beaches are tended to, the robot still found some trash.
“If you look at the beach today, it looks pretty darn clean but what we’re thinking we’re going to demonstrate is after running the robot there is going to be quite a bit of stuff that we didn’t see,” Patterson said.
“The stewardship aspect is huge for us but we’d like to get to the point where we do events and draw attention to the issues but also be unseen and just be cleaning our beaches,” Harris said. “Our goal is to change the standard of how we care for the beaches up here.”
This robot is the only one of its kind on the West Coast and only one of four in the United States.
On a local level, they are also hoping to expand their fleet so that they can have three or four cleaning the beaches.
The League is also currently taking suggestions for possible names for the robot.